Magnus Carlsen wins Grand Chess Tour - Paris in exciting finish

by Alex Yermolinsky
6/26/2017 – After dominating the Rapid games, it looked like it would be a Magnus Carlsen Show, especially after a 4/4 start in the blitz, but things got rocky, and after an initial surge by Hikaru Nakamura, it was local player Maxime Vachier-Lagrave who stormed the Blitz stage, and overtook the world champion. This forced a playoff to decide the title, and once more Magnus Carlsen showed what a pressure player he is, as he took the title. Large illustrated report with GM analysis.

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The Paris tournament of the Grand Chess Tour is running from June 21-25. It is a combination of Rapid and Blitz games. The ten participants are Magnus Carlsen, Wesley So, Hikaru Nakamura, Fabiano Caruana, Alexander Grischuk, Sergey Karjakin, Veselin Topalov, Shakhriyar Mamedyarov, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Etienne Bacrot. They will play nine rapid games, three a day, from June 21–23. The games start at 14:00h, 15:30h and 17:00h European Standard Summer Time. The Blitz tournament is on June 24 and 25, with nine rounds on each day, starting at 14:00h. The total prize fund is $150,000!

Note that the event is using the Bronstein mode: the players have 25 minutes for all the moves of a rapid game, and a ten second delay per move. This means that the clock does not run for ten seconds – the point is that you cannot accumulate time by playing very quickly in the Bronstein Mode.

Day five

All photos by Lennart Ootes

The tournament in Paris had been highly unpredictable, with leaders at times convincing, and at others not, and surprises throughout, and while the world champion did ultimately raise the winner’s trophy, nothing could have been less certain.

In the first game on Sunday, Magnus Carlsen, who had seen his lead cut in half by the end of Saturday's session, started off with a loss. It was a wild game against Caruana, in which he was better, then worse, then lost, then winning, only to make the last blunder. It was the first warning sign, as Magnus' play on the last day was uncharacteristically slow and error-prone.

Magnus Carlsen suffered a setback from the very first game on Sunday, as he lost to Fabiano Caruana

Hikaru Nakamura had made inroads against his lead, and had been the dominant player in the first volley of blitz games on Saturday, and although Calrsen’s margin over the American remained untouched, a new contender began to emerge. Top French player, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, playing in front of his home crowd, surged forward to the sheer delight of his fans.

Carlsen scored wins over Etienne Bacrot and Veselin Topalov, which helped him maintain his lead, but things soon began to unravel.

Alexander Grischuk vs Magnus Carlsen

[Event "Paris GCT 2017 Blitz"] [Site "Paris"] [Date "2017.06.25"] [Round "14"] [White "Grischuk, Alexander"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "D52"] [WhiteElo "2779"] [BlackElo "2851"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "92"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 d5 4. Nc3 c6 5. Bg5 Nbd7 6. e3 Qa5 7. Nd2 dxc4 8. Bxf6 Nxf6 9. Nxc4 Qc7 10. Rc1 Be7 11. g3 O-O 12. Bg2 Rd8 13. O-O Bd7 14. Qb3 Rac8 15. Rfd1 Be8 16. Ne4 Nxe4 17. Bxe4 b5 18. Nd2 h6 19. Bg2 {[#] Nothing special here, just a regular Catalan type of position.} c5 $5 ({The alternative } 19... e5 {could even qualify as a winning attempt.}) 20. dxc5 Bc6 $6 { Positionally sound, but Magnus missed one tactical detail.} ({Instead,} 20... Qb8 {would have likely gotten the pawn back without any surprises.} 21. Ne4 ( 21. c6 Qb6) 21... Rxd1+ 22. Qxd1 f5 $11) 21. Bxc6 Qxc6 22. Qa3 Rd5 23. Nb3 Rxd1+ 24. Rxd1 Bxc5 25. Nxc5 Qxc5 26. Rd8+ $1 {Here it is!} Kh7 27. Qd3+ {[#]} f5 {Magnus really had no choice.} ({In case of} 27... g6 {White could even think of} 28. Qd7 $5 (28. Rxc8 Qxc8 29. Qxb5 {is similar to the game. White retains good winning chances.}) 28... Qc1+ (28... Rxd8 29. Qxf7+ Kh8 30. Qf6+ Kh7 31. Qxd8 Kg7 32. Qe8 {is a very difficult endgame for Black. His king is forever exposed to checks, thus increasing the power of the white queen.}) 29. Kg2 Qc6+ 30. Qxc6 Rxc6 31. Rd7 Kg7 32. Rxa7 Rc2 33. b4 {and Black has to fight for a draw.}) 28. Rxc8 Qxc8 29. Qxb5 Qc1+ 30. Kg2 Qb1 31. Qa4 $1 Qd3 (31... Qxb2 32. Qxa7 Qc2 33. Qa8 $1 $18 {He who controls the long diagonal will prevail.} e5 34. a4 e4 35. Qa5 Kg6 36. Qb6+ Kh7 37. a5 Qd1 38. Qd4 Qe2 39. Qd5) 32. Qd4 $2 {A big misstep.} ({Keeping own king safe is the key to success in queen endgames. Therefore,} 32. Qc6 $1 e5 33. b4 Qd1 34. Qf3 Qc2 35. b5 $18) 32... Qa6 33. a3 Qc6+ 34. Kg1 Qc1+ 35. Kg2 Qc6+ 36. e4 {White's only chance to play on.} fxe4 37. Qe3 a6 38. b4 Kg8 39. g4 Qd5 40. h3 Qc4 $6 {There was no need to move the queen away.} (40... Kf7 41. f3 Qa2+ 42. Kg3 exf3 43. Qxf3+ Kg6 $11) 41. Qc5 Qd3 42. Qc8+ {Sasha just about ran out of time.} ({I can't see a perpetual after} 42. a4 Qf3+ 43. Kh2 Qf4+ 44. Kg1 $16) 42... Kf7 43. Qc7+ Kg8 44. Qc8+ Kf7 45. Qc7+ Kg8 46. Qc8+ Kf7 1/2-1/2

In a way, Grischuk's inability to put the winning game away can be viewed as payback for his win on time on Saturday. Yet, it was alarming to see Carlsen getting in huge trouble from an innocent-looking position. In the meantime, Nakamura also experienced tough setbacks losing to two tail-enders, So and Bacrot. After 14 blitz rounds, and only four left, things still looked quite comfortable for the world no. 1. In the combined standings Magnus Carlsen stood at 23 points, Vachier-Lagrave was in second, two points behind with 21 points, and in third was Hikaru Nakamura with 20. With a two-point lead and only four rounds left, he seemed relatively safe, but then the whole tournament went topsy-turvy after the next game.

Sergey Karjakin got a little back as he inflicted a second defeat on the world champion

Sergey Karjakin vs Magnus Carlsen

[Event "Paris GCT 2017 Blitz"] [Site "Paris"] [Date "2017.06.25"] [Round "15"] [White "Karjakin, Sergey"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C54"] [WhiteElo "2776"] [BlackElo "2851"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "171"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. O-O Nf6 5. d3 a6 6. c3 d6 7. a4 Ba7 8. Nbd2 O-O 9. h3 h6 10. Re1 Re8 11. b4 Be6 12. Bxe6 Rxe6 13. Qc2 Ne7 $6 {Not the best idea here, as White might have different intentions instead of the standard plan with d3-d4.} (13... Qd7) 14. Nf1 Ng6 15. c4 $5 {Here it is, only possible because the black knights are far away from the d4-square.} a5 16. bxa5 Ne7 17. Rb1 Rb8 18. Bd2 Nc6 19. Ng3 Nd7 20. Rb5 Nc5 21. Reb1 Qc8 22. Be3 Re8 23. Nf5 Ne6 {[#] It is not often that we see Carlsen being outplayed in his favorite pawn structure.} 24. Qd2 ({More energetic was} 24. a6 bxa6 25. Rxb8 Bxb8 26. c5 $16) 24... h5 $6 {Carlsen's plan was to evict the knight from f5 by g7-g6, but he won't get the time to do it.} 25. d4 $1 exd4 (25... g6 26. d5 gxf5 27. exf5 Nc5 28. Bxc5 Qxf5 29. Bxa7 Nxa7 30. Rxb7 $18) 26. N3xd4 Nexd4 27. Nxd4 Bxd4 28. Bxd4 {Now the h5-pawn is sticking out like a sore thumb.} Rxe4 (28... Qe6 29. Rxb7 Rxb7 30. Rxb7 Qxc4 31. Bc3 Ne5 32. f3 {looks pretty bad for Black, but at least he isn't getting mated.}) ({Same goes for the very depressing position after} 28... Nxd4 29. Qxd4 g6 30. f4) 29. Bc3 Rxc4 30. Rxh5 {[#] Do you spot a threat?} Qe6 {Carlsen did.} (30... Rc5 31. Rh8+ $1 Kxh8 32. Qh6+) 31. Re1 Qg6 32. Rg5 {but it cost him his queen to defend the king.} Qxg5 33. Qxg5 Rxc3 34. Re4 Rc5 35. Qg3 Rxa5 36. Rg4 g6 37. Qb3 Kf8 38. Rh4 Ke7 39. Rf4 Nd8 {[#]} 40. Re4+ $2 {The only mistake Sergey made in this game.} ({Instead,} 40. Qc3 Rc5 41. Qf6+ Kd7 42. Re4 {would wrap it up rather quickly.}) 40... Kd7 $2 ({ It would be hard for White to break through after} 40... Ne6) 41. Qe3 (41. Qc3 Ra6 42. Qf6) 41... Nc6 (41... Ne6 $1) 42. Qf3 Rf8 43. Qf6 Re5 44. Rxe5 Nxe5 45. f4 Nc6 46. g4 {The h-pawn is going to cost Black dearly. It took Karjakin another 40 moves to force resignation, but the issue was never in doubt.} Nd8 47. h4 Re8 48. h5 gxh5 49. gxh5 Re6 50. Qg7 d5 51. h6 Rg6+ 52. Kf2 Ke7 53. f5 Rf6 54. h7 Rxf5+ 55. Ke1 Ne6 56. Qh6 Re5+ 57. Kd1 Re4 58. h8=Q Rxa4 59. Qh2 Kd7 60. Qf6 Kc6 61. Qc2+ Rc4 62. Qxf7 Nc5 63. Qxc4 $5 dxc4 64. Qxc4 b5 65. Qh4 Nb7 66. Qe4+ Kb6 67. Qg6+ Nd6 68. Kc2 Kc5 69. Kb3 Nc4 70. Qg1+ Kc6 71. Kb4 Nd6 72. Qc5+ Kd7 73. Qd5 c6 74. Qg8 Kc7 75. Qg7+ Kb6 76. Qd4+ Kc7 77. Ka5 Nb7+ 78. Ka6 Nd6 79. Qa7+ Kd8 80. Qh7 Nc8 81. Kb7 Ne7 82. Kb6 Kd7 83. Kc5 Ke6 84. Qh6+ Kd7 85. Qd6+ Ke8 86. Qe6 1-0

A forgettable event for Sergey Karjakin who finished on just 50%

A bit of revenge for Sergey Karjakin, but Carlsen's main concern was Vachier-Lagrave, who won his game, and had narrowed the gap to just one point. In round sixteen they faced each other.

Magnus Carlsen vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

[Event "Paris GCT 2017 Blitz"] [Site "Paris"] [Date "2017.06.25"] [Round "16"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "0-1"] [ECO "B92"] [WhiteElo "2832"] [BlackElo "2796"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "114"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 a6 6. Be2 e5 7. Nf3 h6 { Common, but perhaps unnecessary.} (7... Be7 8. Bg5 Be6 9. Bxf6 Bxf6 10. O-O O-O 11. Nd5 Nd7 $11) 8. Nd2 b5 (8... Be6 {allows the white knight to continue the journey to the d5-square.} 9. Nc4 b5 10. Ne3) 9. Nf1 $1 {Magnus finds a back door entrance.} Bb7 10. Bf3 Nbd7 11. Ne3 Nb6 12. O-O Rc8 13. Qd3 g6 14. Rd1 Be7 15. a4 $1 b4 16. Na2 a5 {[#]} 17. c3 $2 ({There wasn't much wrong with the greedy} 17. Qb5+ Bc6 18. Qxa5 Ra8 19. Qxb4 Rxa4 20. Qb3) 17... b3 18. Nb4 { One can tell Magnus is trying to muscle his way through. While he's pretty good at that too, still, this isn't how he normally plays.} axb4 19. a5 bxc3 $5 {Maxime values the initiative above material. It's admirable under any circumstances, but it also happens to be a pretty good strategy in blitz, where active play is often rewarded.} (19... Nbd7 20. cxb4 O-O {Objectively speaking Black is better here.}) 20. axb6 c2 21. Rd2 Qxb6 22. Ra3 O-O 23. Rxb3 Qa7 $6 ({The tournament situation called for trying to win at any cost, so} 23... Qa6 24. Qxa6 Bxa6 25. Rxc2 Rxc2 26. Nxc2 Rc8 27. Rc3 Rxc3 28. bxc3 Kg7 29. Nb4 Bb7 {seemed too bland.}) 24. Ra3 Qd4 $6 25. Qb3 $1 Qxd2 26. Bxd2 c1=Q+ 27. Bxc1 Rxc1+ 28. Nf1 Bxe4 {[#] Black has compensation, but it's hard to see him winning this.} 29. Qe3 $1 Rc4 30. Qxh6 d5 31. Bxe4 $1 {For a while Carlsen played it right.} Ng4 (31... Bxa3 32. Bxg6 fxg6 33. Qxg6+ Kh8 34. bxa3 d4 35. h4 {is practically hopeless for Black - see MVL-Nakamura from the rapid.}) 32. Qh3 Rxe4 33. Rc3 Rb4 34. Rc2 Kg7 35. Qd3 Nf6 36. Qg3 e4 37. Qe5 Re8 {[#] Under better circumstances it would be hard to bet on Magnus losing this game, but the combination of time trouble and frustration ultimately made it possible.} 38. Ne3 $6 (38. Ng3 d4 39. Qg5 d3 40. Nf5+ Kg8 41. Rc8 {leads White nowhere in terms of obtaining winning chances} Rxc8 42. Nxe7+ Kg7 43. Nxc8 $4 (43. Nf5+ { may still be enough for a draw}) 43... Rxb2 {and the back rank weakness kills.} ) ({The most practical would have been to play} 38. h4) 38... d4 39. Ng4 d3 40. Rc1 Bd8 41. Qc3 Rb7 42. Ne3 Rc7 43. Qd2 Rxc1+ 44. Qxc1 Bb6 45. Kf1 Bxe3 46. Qxe3 Rb8 47. Qd4 Rb5 48. Ke1 Rg5 49. g3 Rd5 50. Qc3 d2+ 51. Kd1 Rd3 52. Qe5 Rd5 53. Qf4 g5 $2 (53... Rd3 {strongly threatening e4-e3 would have forced repetition:} 54. Qe5 Rd5 55. Qc3 Rd3) 54. Qe3 Kg6 55. h3 (55. h4 gxh4 56. gxh4) 55... Rd3 56. Qb6 Kg7 57. b4 $4 {Oh, horror.} Nd5 {Blunders aside, one has to give credit to Maxime for uncompromising play. He sensed Magnus wasn't at his best at the moment and seized his chance.} 0-1

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave drove the French crowd wild as he surged ahead to not only catch Magnus Carlsen, but even lead

A concerned Carlsen watches the game between Alexander Grischuk and the rising threat, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave

With just two rounds to go, Magnus Carlsen had now seen Maxime Vachier-Lagrave catch up to him, and anything could happen. This giant mix might have included another player at the top, but it was not meant to be. Indeed, the most tragic episode of Round 16 was Hikaru Nakamura's undeserving loss to Mamedyarov. At the end of a long, drawish rook endgame Hikaru thought he was forcing a trade of the last pair of pawns, but he did it the wrong way by underpromoting his pawn to a knight. One intermediate check later he found himself in an awkward position with his king and after another mistake ended up losing a heartbreaker.

Honestly, I feel bad for focusing on blunders too much. If anything, the participants of such a grueling event deserve nothing but praise for their resilience. Just look at Nakamura's comeback in the very next game, the penultimate round:

Hikaru Nakamura knew he had lost control of the event ewas was now fighting to secure at least bronze, and to do so he only needed to beat Magnus Carlsen. Only...

Hikaru Nakamura vs Magnus Carlsen

[Event "Paris GCT 2017 Blitz"] [Site "Paris"] [Date "2017.06.25"] [Round "17"] [White "Nakamura, Hikaru"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "D11"] [WhiteElo "2785"] [BlackElo "2832"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "125"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. Nf3 d5 2. e3 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. d4 a6 5. Bd3 Bg4 6. Nbd2 e6 7. h3 Bh5 8. b3 Nbd7 9. Bb2 Bg6 10. Bxg6 hxg6 11. Qc2 Bb4 12. O-O O-O 13. Bc3 Bxc3 14. Qxc3 c5 15. Rfd1 Rc8 16. Rac1 Qe7 17. Qb2 cxd4 18. Nxd4 Ne5 19. N2f3 Nxf3+ 20. Nxf3 dxc4 21. Rxc4 Rxc4 22. bxc4 {[#] While the position on the board doesn't promise White much, Hikaru's game plan was just to keep the game going.} Rc8 ( 22... Ne4 $1 23. Ne5 Nc5 {was the most solid way to handle this.}) 23. Ne5 g5 ( 23... Ne4 $2 24. Rd7) 24. Qb6 g6 25. a4 (25. Rd6 $1 Qc7 26. Qd4 $16) 25... Qc7 $1 26. Qb2 Qe7 27. Qb6 $1 {Exclamation mark for psychology. By repeating the moves once Nakamura probes Carlsen's resolve.} Kg7 (27... Qc7 {It's an open question what Hikaru would do in reply to a silent draw offer. I think he would have gone on:} 28. Qd4 Qc5 29. Rb1 {etc.}) 28. g3 Rc7 29. Qb2 Kg8 30. Rd4 Rc5 31. Rd1 Rc7 32. Kg2 Rc8 33. Rd3 Rc7 34. Rd1 Rc8 35. a5 Rc7 36. Qb6 Rc8 37. Rb1 Rc7 38. Rb2 Qc5 39. f4 gxf4 40. gxf4 Ne4 41. Kf3 Nd6 42. Rb4 Kg7 43. Ke2 $6 {Both players were extremely low on time.} (43. Qxc5 Rxc5 44. e4 f6 45. Nd3 { keeps the balance, as now White has} Rxa5 46. e5) 43... f6 44. Qxc5 Rxc5 45. Nd3 {[#]} Rxc4 $2 {Hikaru's risky strategy begins to pay dividends.} (45... Rxa5 46. Rb6 Ra2+ (46... Nxc4 47. Rxb7+ Kh6 48. Nf2 Ra2+ 49. Kd3 Rxf2 50. Kxc4 {is closer to a draw than a win for Black.}) 47. Kf3 Nxc4 48. Rxb7+ Kh6 49. Nc5 Ra3 50. Nd7 g5 51. Nxf6 {Same story here - White will survive down a pawn.}) 46. Rb6 Ne4 47. Rxb7+ Kh6 48. Nb4 Rc3 (48... Nc5 {was the last chance for Black to keep the game even.} 49. Rb6 Na4 50. Rb8 Rc5) 49. Rb6 Ra3 {For the rest of the game Hikaru kept on finding best moves, while Magnus was missing with his shots - not the kind of scenario anybody would envision.} 50. Rxa6 Ra4 51. Nc6 Ra2+ 52. Kd1 Nc3+ 53. Ke1 Nd5 (53... Kh5 $1) 54. Ra8 $16 Ra1+ (54... e5 $1) 55. Kd2 Ra2+ 56. Kd3 Ra3+ 57. Kd4 Nxe3 58. a6 Nf5+ 59. Kc5 Rc3+ 60. Kb6 Nd6 61. a7 Rb3+ 62. Kc5 Ne4+ 63. Kd4 1-0

Magnus Carlsen was in a world of pain, as he lost three of the last four games and entering the last round was actually trailing Maxime Vachier-Lagrave by half a point

The shocker was not over though, and round seventeen had Magnus’s fans all gnawing away at their fingernails, while Maxime’s were all cheering. The reason was the News Alert – Tournament Has New Leader. Magnus Carlsen had just suffered his third straight loss, this time to Hikaru Nakamura, and the score was now Vachier-Lagrave – 23.5 pts., followed by Carlsen, half a point behind. While Nakamura knew he was not in contention for gold anymore, he faced the prospect of being surpassed for a spot on the podium, since after 16 rounds, Grischuk had caught up with him and threatened to steal third. This vital win over Carlsen was enough to help keep him just one step ahead of his new rival.

For the live French commentary, it was pure joy and excitement as their local hero did the unthinkable

The production room of Canal+

In the last two rounds MVL (short for Maxime Vachier-Lagrave) faced two tough Russians, who played for pride, and a bit of prize money. It's no shame Maxime couldn't keep his winning streak going. Still, his result in the Blitz was nothing short of extraordinary, 13/18, good for a 2947 performance. In the updated Live Blitz rating list he's only 9 points behind Carlsen.

Of MVL's many great wins I selected the following game.

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave vs Shakhriyar Mamedyarov

[Event "Paris GCT 2017 Blitz"] [Site "Paris"] [Date "2017.06.25"] [Round "15"] [White "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Black "Mamedyarov, Shakhriyar"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B11"] [WhiteElo "2783"] [BlackElo "2784"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "113"] [EventDate "2017.??.??"] [EventType "blitz"] 1. e4 c6 2. Nf3 d5 3. Nc3 Bg4 4. h3 Bxf3 5. Qxf3 e6 6. Be2 Bc5 7. O-O Ne7 8. Na4 Bd6 9. d4 dxe4 10. Qxe4 Nd7 11. Rd1 O-O 12. Qf3 Qa5 13. Nc3 Nf6 14. Ne4 Nxe4 15. Qxe4 Rad8 16. a4 Rd7 17. c3 Rfd8 18. Bc4 Qh5 19. Re1 a5 20. Be2 Qg6 21. Qxg6 Nxg6 22. g3 h6 23. h4 Ne7 24. h5 Nd5 25. Kg2 Nf6 26. Bf3 Kf8 27. Re2 Nd5 28. Bd2 Nb6 29. b3 Nd5 30. Rh1 Be7 31. Be1 b6 32. Be4 c5 33. dxc5 bxc5 34. c4 Nb4 35. Bc3 Rb8 36. Rd2 Rxd2 37. Bxd2 Bf6 38. Kf3 Bd4 {[#] We know Maxime can be a demon in his attacks, but his endgame mastery shouldn't be overlooked. } 39. g4 $1 {From an objectively equal position MVL tried to drum up some chances.} f6 $6 {This feels wrong.} ({Perhaps, the best solution was} 39... Na2 40. Bc2 (40. Rb1 Nc3) 40... Nb4 {How can White avoid repetition?}) 40. Bf4 e5 41. Bd2 Rd8 $6 ({Same idea here,} 41... Na2 42. Bc2 Nb4 {but now White can contemplate} 43. Bg6 Na2 44. Bxa5 Rxb3+ 45. Ke4) 42. Ke2 Ke7 43. Rd1 Kd6 { A very unfortunate plan. The kings abandons the area where his help will soon be needed.} 44. f4 $1 Kc7 45. g5 $1 hxg5 46. fxg5 fxg5 {[#]} 47. Rf1 $1 { Open file before pawns!} g4 48. Rf5 $1 (48. Rf7+ Rd7) 48... Kc8 $6 {Shak has lost the handle.} (48... Rd7 49. Rg5 Rf7 50. Be1 $16) 49. Rf7 $1 {Only now.} Rh8 (49... Rd7 $2 50. Bf5) 50. Bf5+ Kb8 51. Bxg4 $18 e4 52. Bf4+ Ka8 53. Bf5 { Threatening mate.} Re8 54. Bg6 Re6 55. Bf5 Re8 56. Bd6 Nd3 57. Bd7 1-0

What about Carlsen? At the last moment, when the chips were down, the World Champion did what he does best. He buckled down and got the job done. First he left no chance for the struggling Wesley So, catching up with the Frenchman, and forcing a playoff to decide the title. The stage was cleared as the two set off to decide the winner in a mini-match of two 10-minute games.

The drawing of lots to determine the colors of the playoff

In the first one Magnus Carlsen beat Maxime Vachier-Lagrave in a powerful demonstration of grit and quality.

Game one of the playoff

Magnus Carlsen vs Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (Playoff)

[Event "GCT Rapid TB Paris 2017"] [Site "Paris FRA"] [Date "2017.06.25"] [Round "1"] [White "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Black "Vachier-Lagrave, Maxime"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A48"] [WhiteElo "2832"] [BlackElo "2796"] [Annotator "Alex Yermolinsky"] [PlyCount "123"] [EventDate "2017.06.25"] [EventType "rapid"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 g6 3. e3 Bg7 4. Nf3 d6 5. Be2 Nh5 6. Bg5 h6 7. Bh4 g5 8. Nfd2 Nf4 9. exf4 gxh4 10. c3 c5 11. dxc5 dxc5 12. Na3 O-O 13. O-O Nc6 14. Re1 h3 15. g3 e5 16. fxe5 Nxe5 17. Nf3 Nxf3+ 18. Bxf3 Qf6 19. Nc4 Rd8 20. Qe2 Be6 21. Bg4 Bxg4 22. Qxg4 b5 23. Ne3 Rd2 24. Re2 Rad8 25. Rae1 Rxe2 26. Rxe2 Qe6 27. Qxe6 fxe6 28. Kf1 b4 29. cxb4 cxb4 30. Rc2 b3 $1 {Typical MVL, he always finds counterplay.} 31. axb3 Rb8 32. Rc6 Rxb3 33. Rxe6 Rxb2 34. Nf5 Bf8 35. Nxh6+ Kg7 36. Ng4 a5 37. Ra6 Ra2 38. f4 a4 39. f5 Bb4 40. Ra7+ Kf8 41. f6 {[#]The two exhausted warriors play the game of survival.} Ra1+ $2 {First step in a wrong direction.} ({There was no need to let the white king out, as} 41... a3 42. Nh6 $2 Rf2+ $1 {actually wins for BLACK}) 42. Ke2 a3 43. Nh6 Re1+ $2 (43... Ke8 $11 {was still there to keep the rook in support of the a-pawn.}) 44. Kd3 Re6 45. Ra8+ Re8 46. Ra6 Rc8 47. g4 $18 Rd8+ 48. Ke4 Ke8 49. g5 Bf8 50. Kf5 Rd2 51. Ra8+ Rd8 52. Rxd8+ Kxd8 53. g6 a2 54. g7 Bxg7 55. fxg7 a1=Q 56. g8=Q+ Kc7 57. Qg3+ Kd7 58. Qxh3 Qg7 59. Kf4+ Kc7 60. Nf5 Qb2 61. Qh7+ Kc8 62. Qg8+ 1-0

In the second game, he surprised the Frenchman with a mainline Ruy Lopez Marshall with black, repeating the line played between MVL and Aronian a couple of weeks earlier in Norway, and soon got a strong edge, which he maneuvered into a forced draw. With this, Magnus Carlsen not only won the Grand Chess Tour Paris tournament, but protected his immaculate playoff record: though not often mentioned, Magnus Carlsen has not lost a playoff or tiebreaker since 2007!

Carlsen joins the French commentators who congratulate him on his victory

All well that ends well, some say. However, even a cursory analysis of Carlsen's play in the Blitz leaves me scratching my head. First there is his blitz result in which he lost 45 rating points due with his 10/18 score, though this is hardly a disaster, considering the volatility of Rapid and Blitz ratings.

What bothers me most is how his points were distributed throughout the event. He started 4/4 Saturday, and if you exclude that, Carlsen then went 6/14 the rest of the way, including just 4/9 on Sunday.

Perhaps even more disturbingly, a big chunk of his points came against the bottom three finishers, 6/6 total, which also means that he only scored 4/12 against better blitz players? Magnus also lost four micro-matches, against MVL (0-2!), Nakamura, Karjakin and Grischuk (all .5-1.5); he also split with Caruana and edged Mamedyarov by a minimal margin. At the risk of sounding like Maurice Ashley, I might ask Magnus, what's up with that?

Carlsen will have a chance to answer that just two days from now, when the Leuven stage begins Wednesday. I can't wait.

You could hardly cut it any closer, but in the end Magnus Carlsen secured his first tournament win of 2017

Finally, I'd like to mention Hikaru's gutsy last round win with black against Karjakin. It enabled Nakamura to finish third overall and grab some Tour points that might come in handy when they count the chickens after the London Classic in December.

Hikaru Nakamura showed grit as he staved off his challengers and secured third

A photo of the players and organizers (click on image for full-size)

Final Rapid standings*

(click for full-size)

*Note: All rapid games count double in combined standings

Final Blitz standings

(click for full-size)

Combined standings



You can use ChessBase 14 or any of our Fritz compatible chess programs to replay the games in PGN. You can also download our free Playchess client, which will in addition give you immediate access to the chess server

Yermo is enjoying his fifties. Lives in South Dakota, 600 miles way from the nearest grandmaster. Between his chess work online he plays snooker and spends time outdoors - happy as a clam.


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